Established in 1865, REUGE is a world leader in the manufacture of traditionally-made luxury music boxes and mechanical singing birds. The magnificent musical movements in these music boxes are fitted with high-precision mechanics, setting to music, as it were, all the ages of history. They are mounted inside a complex sound box made of noble woods, glass or modern materials such as carbon or Corian®.
As well as the 1865, Lounge and Studio collections, the REUGE Manufacture produces limited editions dedicated to certain great composers, and also versions designed to appeal to sailing and motor enthusiasts, and even cigar lovers.
Charles Reuge‘s enthusiasm as a clock and watchmaker led him to start making watches fitted with musical movements in 1865. Fired with the same enthusiasm, his son Albert opened a music box workshop in Sainte-Croix some twenty years later. And thus a dynasty was born and was guided by Guido Reuge for more than sixty years. Intuitive, imaginative and pioneering, he built the present factory on Rue des Rasses, invented and manufactured a ski binding that enabled him to continue making music boxes, even when times were tough, and acquired several competitor companies, bringing real added-value to Reuge and guaranteeing the rapid expansion of the business.
As Guido Reuge had no direct descendants, in 1988 he decided to sell his company to a group of investors from Vaud and Geneva. They provided the company with the facilities and innovations required to increase production and improve quality. Nevertheless, craftsmanship remained the driving force behind the company’s excellence. In 2001, Reuge purchased the Italian company Arte Intarsio, its main supplier of wooden boxes, assuring Reuge complete control of the entire manufacturing process for music boxes.
Three years later, an investment fund governed by Luxembourg law, Cap Gamma SA, purchased a majority stake in Reuge and gave the company the means to ensure its long-term future. A new strategy was implemented – by a new management team – to modernise the product line and form a more selective distribution network. In line with this strategy, Reuge bought Mermod Frères SA to launch a new range of musical watches and jewellery under the Mermod Frères name. Reuge is currently the only manufacturer of large musical movements worldwide, some of which can be compared to the grandes complications in watch-making.
The philosophy of Reuge SA can be summarised in a few words: manufacturing, a tradition of quality, exclusivity, modernity and creativity. Currently still the largest employer in Sainte-Croix, Reuge SA is the only company worldwide still proficient in the delicate manufacture of large musical objects – a complete range of singing birds and musical watches with or without automation. To build on rich tradition, clearly expressed in its motto, “The Art of Mechanical Music”, while turning toward the future to lead the company toward the modernity that will secure its long-term survival, that is the path chosen by the new management team at the helm of the company.
Reuge’s challenge is ambitious: thrust the music box back into the spotlight and give it the strong and poignant image of an exclusive gift. From being a functional object – albeit one embellished by the refined decoration of the box that both protects the movement and helps to transmit the sound – the music box is becoming an object that appeals to the senses, a true mechanical musical instrument.
The products have been completely redesigned to help achieve the company’s aims. A new, more attractive musical movement has been designed for the contemporary objects in the “Lounge” and “Studio” lines that helps to give the melody a clearer sound. In addition, the distribution network will in future be very selective in the main markets for luxury products, principally Switzerland, the United States and Japan. With the dawn of the 21st century Reuge SA’s challenge is to revolutionise the image of the music box, to award it the status of a decorative object, to attract collectors using its more traditional articles housed in sublime marquetry cases made of precious wood and also to attract younger customers using more modern designs.
Once upon a time there was a music box… Created in 1796, it was inspired by the peal of bells. The first music boxes were produced in Sainte-Croix in 1811, bringing international renown to the small town. Production expanded rapidly with constant improvements being made to the tone of the tunes; at the same time, the creation of sumptuous wooden boxes became an art in itself.
The system of the musical movement is ingenious, with pre-tuned metal teeth driven by a cylinder fitted with pins to produce infinitely varied and accurate sounds. In 1870 a German inventor created the disc music box, which allowed for the tune to be changed more easily and frequently; however, the sound was slightly more metallic.
From 1865, Reuge developed a passion for the world of the musical movement, which today remains almost unchanged and the components of which are produced using tools designed by the company, making the Reuge factory the world’s only manufacturer of large musical movements, some of which can be compared to the grandes complications in watch-making.
Musical movements Reuge creations contain a variety of musical movements, from miniaturised movements for pocket watches through mechanical singing bird movements to larger movements for luxurious boxes made using rare varieties of wood.
- 1. The simple movement: 17, 22 or 36 notes – plays one tune.
- 2. The changing movement: 36, 72 or 144 notes – plays three long tunes with the cylinder moving laterally in front of the comb to play each one.
- 3. The interchangeable movement: 50, 72 or 144 notes – has several easy to handle interchangeable cylinders that play a total of between 5 and 20 tunes.
- 4. The cartel : 144 notes – has a winding lever to the left of the cylinder and generally plays 4 tunes per cylinder (can play up to 20 tunes).
- 5. The disc movement, in which the cylinder is replaced by a disc: 30 notes.
- 6. The new 21st century movement: At the dawn of the 21st century, Reuge has developed a new movement. Based on the same principles as the traditional movement, the spring-housing has been modernised and the overall aesthetics have generally been improved, whilst the tone of the tune has been made clearer, accuracy has been increased and quality made more consistent. This new movement will be fitted in the designer items in the Lounge and Studio collections, whilst the traditional version will be kept for classic items.
- 7. The mechanical singing bird movement: Made up of 250 parts, including the genuine leather bellows, it can be compared to a grande complication in watch-making. The bird itself is a work of art, being made of 25 parts with internally mounted cams and springs. The real hummingbird feathers, which never lose their vividness, are applied by hand as part of an eight-hour process.
The Complexity of a Music Box
A musical movement is made up of a large number of parts. The main parts include:-
1. The comb, which is made of hardened steel; the teeth are cut out one by one in the comb, and then tuned to reproduce musical notes.The comb comes in different sizes depending on the number of notes, which ranges from 17 to 72. A 144- note movement is made up of two 72-note combs. A damper is placed under the teeth which produce low notes, to dampen the sound. The hardening process requires great knowledge with regard to the time and temperature. This important aspect determines the sound quality and is what differentiates Reuge movements from the rest.
2. The cylinder: is generally made of brass or nickel-plated brass and can hold up to 5,000 steel pins 0.25 mm in diameter, held by a resin injected into the cylinder to absorb its resonances.
3. The spring-housing: contains a spring that drives the musical movement. The spring is wound with a key or, on cartel movements, a lever.
4. The regulator or speed-governor: made up of a fin known as the flywheel controls the speed at which the spring unwinds and gives the music a regular rhythm. In large movements, as in watches, there is a jewel bearing designed to reduce noise and wear.
5. The base-plate holds all of the components of the movement. It is generally made of brass.
6. The box: often a veritable work of art, acts as an amplifier so that the music is audible.
A professional arranger is given the difficult task of reducing a tune to its most characteristic part so that it can be played – and identified – in a few seconds.
The best cabinetmakers in Switzerland and Italy are chosen. Loyal to their respective traditions, they create the perfect environment for Reuge’s mechanical marvels. The choice of varieties of wood (from all over the world), their seasoning and assembly, the varnish – everything is brought together to produce exceptional boxes that are true collector’s items. The base is in a way the music box’s speaker. The feet create the space necessary for the sound to resonate. The difficulty is in making a base that is thin enough to vibrate well, but still thick and strong enough not to break during transport.
The inlay work
This is done entirely by hand. Over 100 different varieties of wood can be used. After cutting, the parts are assembled on a piece of paper and then stuck onto the box. The paper is removed by sanding. The shading is produced by scorching the wood in boxes of hot sand. The Italians still use the method of drawing on the inlay to obtain more detail.
The lacquer used is identical to that used for traditional furniture and antiques. 3 to 4 days are required for drying between coats. The surface is then sanded and cleaned before the next layer is applied. The skills involved in music box production There is no specific training. Over time each producer has developed precision, patience and know-how to become a brilliant craftsman capable of creating enchanting works of art. It takes around two months to make a music box, during which time the stamper, polisher, hardener,welder, cutter, tuner and fixer are all involved.
- Shaping of the brass base-plates on numerically controlled machines.
- Stamping: Stamping of the mechanical parts that make up the movement.
- Combs: Cutting of the combs, i.e. cutting of the teeth.
- Hardening: the combs are heated and then plunged into oil to create a thermal shock; the correct hardness of the comb, and therefore the correct tone, is thus obtained.
- Welding: lead is soldered underneath the teeth for the low notes.
- Tuning: this is a computerised operation; each tooth has a frequency, and a grinding wheel files them to the correct frequency.
- Feathering: synthetic dampers are glued underneath the teeth which produce the low notes to act as a damper (to perfect the sound). In the past, chicken feathers were used.
- Drilling: the drilling machines make holes in the cylinders.
- Pinning: the pinning machines place the pins (small steel wires) in the holes.
- The cylinders are checked, and then resin is placed inside them to improve the tone.
- Plugs are placed at each end of the cylinder and an axle is placed inside.
- The fixer assembles all of the components on the base-plate and checks the movement.
- The movement is fixed inside the box. The final check is carried out.
Reuge is a genuine Manufactory, that is, all of the production tools used, to make the parts of the musical movement, were produced by the company. Although they have since been modernised, they were mostly created between 1939 and 1975.
14th century: The history of mechanical music can be traced back to Flanders. An ingenious bell ringer designs a cylinder perforated with pins; these operate cams that in turn strike bells.
1780: The mechanical singing bird is invented by Jaquet-Droz, a clockmaker from La Chauxde- Fonds. In 1848, the manufacture of singing birds is perfected by Blaise Bontems in his Paris workshop to such a degree that current manufacture has remained unchanged. Barrel organs spread through the streets.
1796: Antoine Favre, a Geneva clockmaker, replaces the bells with pre-tuned metal teeth, which produce more varied and clearer sounds.
1811: Manufacture of the first music boxes in Sainte-Croix… An industry that will rapidly overtake clock-making and lace, giving the town international renown.
1865: Charles Reuge, a clockmaker originally from Val de Travers, appears on the scene, setting up business in Sainte-Croix with the manufacture of pocket watches with musical movements.
1870: A German inventor creates the disc music box, making it easier to change the tune played by the box more frequently.
1877: Invention of the phonograph by Thomas Edison. The impact of this will be felt strongly towards the end of the century, destabilising the music box industry.
1886: Albert Reuge, son of Charles, opens a small music box factory in Sainte-Croix. This marks the transition from a workshop to a real business.
1929: Guido, Albert and Henri, the third generation of the Reuge dynasty, invent the Kandahar ski binding, allowing the business to survive economic crisis and war.
1930: Construction of the current Reuge factory on rue des Rasses, Sainte-Croix.
1950: Arrival in force of the Japanese on the music box market representing the greatest challenge to the Swiss makers since the invention of phonograph.
1953: Manufacture of movements that can change between several melodies.
1960: Acquisition and manufacture of the first machines by Reuge making it possible to rationalise work. Reuge becomes the world leader in high-quality musical movements. Reuge buys Bontems, in Paris, and takes over the manufacture and marketing of mechanical singing birds.
1977-1991: Reuge buys out the following competitors:-
- Eschle, manufacturers of snuff boxes and singing birds (1977)
- Mélodies SA, manufacturers of Thorens disc boxes (1985)
- Lador, manufacturers of 18-note movements (1986)
- Cuendet, manufacturers of cuckoo movements (1991).At this time, Reuge is positioned as the only manufacturer of singing birds worldwide.
1988: Reuge SA is bought out by a group of Swiss investors; development and implementation of a business modernisation programme. Manufacture of large high-quality pieces resumes.
1993: Takeover of a distribution and assembly company in Los Angeles and creation of Reuge Music USA Ltd.
2000: Increase in turnover.
2001: Reuge purchases the Italian company Arte Intarsio, its main supplier of wooden boxes, and so now controls the complete manufacture of music boxes.
2001-2003: Reuge suffers a serious economic downturn forcing the business to undergo re-organisation.
2004: Reuge is bought out by a Luxembourg-based investment fund, Cap Gamma SA. Creation of a new company image through the modernisation of its logo and its transactions. Top-of-the-range position of the company, production of small 18-note movement models ends. Design of new and highly modern product lines. Overhaul of its distribution network.
2006: Kurt Kupper is appointed chief executive officer of Reuge SA.
2007: Reuge purchases Mermod Frères SA, a company in Sainte-Croix and formerly a renowned maker of music boxes and timepieces, to relaunch the brand with a new line of musical watches and jewellery.
Official website: http://www.reuge.com